Woman sues Pennington County authorities for alleged violation of her civil rights

File this under “small breach, huge harm.”

Mike Anderson reports that a woman is suing Pennington County because employees at City County Alcohol Drug Program (CCADP) violated federal law when they notified law enforcement that they had found a used syringe in her possession when she came to them, seeking help.

Their notification appears taboo to me under the Confidentiality Of Alcohol And Drug Abuse Patient Records Regulation (42 CFR Part 2), but hey, IANAL and all those disclaimers.

Disturbingly, perhaps, every agency the woman and her legal representative have contacted refuse to take any action and say that what the program did is permissible.

And what did OCR do when the woman, who spent 200 days in jail after being convicted on charges, filed a complaint under HIPAA?

Giroux recently received a response from the Office for Civil Rights, a federal agency that protects an individual’s civil and privacy rights. Like the other groups she has reached out to, the OCR said in its letter that it will not take any punitive action, but with one crucial difference.

Based on Giroux’s description of events, the letter acknowledged that a breach of federally protected confidentiality had indeed occurred. The OCR informed Giroux that it has closed its case against the Pennington County drug treatment center with one caveat:

If it receives another complaint alleging that Pennington County drug treatment staff have broken the confidentiality rights of their clients, “OCR may initiate a formal investigation of the matter.”

So maybe there wasn’t a breach of 42 CFR Part 2, but there was a HIPAA breach? And OCR won’t do anything unless someone else also claims to have been harmed or the victim of a similar breach?

Wow. That is terribly disappointing. I’d like to see a record of HHS/OCR notifying them, in writing, that what they have done violates HIPAA, and don’t do that again.

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